Devin XO is an artist of his time.
His music and rapping is informed by both the modern wave of hip-hop and the wealth of influences that brought about the genre; his sound couldn't exist in any year but 2018.
XO, born Philippe Laroque, released his second EP last October. "Coming of Age" had been in the making since 2015, when a long-term relationship ended and he made an impulsive project called "Fake Smiles" that never saw the light of day.LISTEN IN
"A lot of the songs I'd been releasing previous to ('Coming of Age') had been kind of surface level," said XO, who is based in Columbus. "I wanted to get deeper and more personal with what I was saying."
Explicit personal confessions aren't new in rap, but the current wave of young artists have become known for openly addressing mental health in their music.
On "Fly Away," XO raps about his struggles with self-doubt before offering hope in the chorus to people, who, like him, "don't know where (they are) going."
And it's not just darker emotions that XO expresses in his music. The lovey-dovey "Shower" heaps earnest praise on the personality and physical dimensions of his significant other. The prominent horn makes the track as sensual as the far-less-than-subtle lyrics do.
XO also takes aesthetic influence from modern music. His cover art evokes mid-career Childish Gambino, from whom he also seems to borrow a willingness to take his music in any direction. For example, "Social Anxiety" mines a prescription-drug commercial over a jubilant, almost showtune-like piano.
What XO takes most from the modern rap is the limitlessness that the genre has acquired. There is no style of music that can't be pulled into rap music these days. The youngest generation of artists experiencing success (and skepticism) take influence from pop-punk of the mid-2000s and hard rockers like Marilyn Manson.
XO doesn't follow that path exactly, but in part because of it, the musical world in which he is operating is completely open. He takes full advantage of the lack of boundaries surrounding him.
"I just wanted to fill people's ears with positivity," XO said of an earlier project, "Journey to Paradise." "I just want a bunch of happiness."
XO seems to be continuing with that goal in his music.
As much consideration goes into the diversity of instrumentation and production, the one thing that glares through "Coming of Age" is an emphasis on overcoming adversity. He lets the dark shine through, but always reminds himself, and the listener, that there is a better world out there.
Sam Kayuha is associate editor for In The Record Store. Each week, ThisWeek is featuring a local music feature from the organization, which focuses on central Ohio music discovery and involvement.